Illinois 60, Penn State 55 — FINAL
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For the first time this season, John Groce shuffled the starting lineup, starting freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in place of fifth-year seniors Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey.
The youngsters posted career-high numbers, tallying 19 and 11 points, respectively.
Nunn buried a three-pointer from the corner with 20 seconds left to give the Illini a four-point lead in a game they were having trouble putting away.
The win ended a nine-game losing streak for Illinois, their previous win coming on Jan. 4 against the Nittany lions in Champaign.
Illinois' top scorer Rayvonte Rice scored nine points and Ekey came off the bench to score nine as well.
Penn State was led by D.J. Newbill's 19 points.
More later on HQ.
Penn State 50, Illinois 49 — 10:58 second half
Talked to a couple leaders from the Orange Krush at halftime. Their cover story was that they were a networking group of young professionals from throughout the Big Ten and they were meeting here in State College this weekend.
"There's 100 of us and we're showing up Penn State's student section," one of them told me.
The Krush left from Huff this morning at 12:30 on two buses. It took them about 12 hours to get here and they're going right back after the game.
This was lost on me, but Illinois entered the locker room tied at the half with Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams going scoreless in the half. Rice hit a couple free throws early in this half to get on the board.
The Illini are 6 for 11 from the floor almost midway through the half.
Kendrick Nunn has already surpassed his career-high in scoring. He's got 14. His previous high was eight. He's got some serious confidence in his step.
Illinois just can't string together enough good possessions at both ends of the floor to create any distance between themselves and the Lions.
A kid named Trevor won the dance-off at the 12-minute timeout. He did a variation of the Bernie and did a break-dance move. He'd fit in well with the Ryan Dallas Dance Cam at State Farm Center.
Penn State 31, Illinois 31 — Halftime
A few times, Illinois has had a mismatch with one of Penn State's guards matched up against a bigger Illini player. Malcolm Hill tried to post up Tim Frazier and Maverick Morgan tried to post up John Johnson, but the PSU defender did a nice job of using his feet to front the post. Morgan also comes off the block early to set the ball screen.
Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill are both playing with a lot of confidence, calling for the ball and taking confident shots.
How about Austin Colbert? The freshman has played very little this season and he's come in and played with a boatload of poise today.
Colbert left the floor pointing at a cheering Orange Krush.
The Illini went on a 24-6 run in the half to take a 31-22 lead before the Nittany Lions countered with a 9-0 run, all scored by Frazier and Newbill.
The marketing guy running the timeout promotion asked the Penn State fans to make some noise to cancel out the orange folks.
Penn State shot 38.7 percent (12 for 31) from the floor and 27.3 percent (3 for 11) from three.
Illinois shot 35.7 percent (10 for 28) from the floor and 27.3 percent (3 for 11) from three.
Kendrick Nunn led the way, tying a career-high with eight points. Malcolm Hill had seven and Jon Ekey added six off the bench.
Penn State got 12 from D.J. Newbill and eight from Donovon Jack.
The rebounds are even at 18 apiece.
Illinois turned it over three times and PSU twice.
Penn State 16, Illinois 12 — first half
The Orange Krush made its annual trip on the road, attending today's game at Bryce Jordan Center. The Penn State students snuffed them out early chanting "Take it off!" when they noticed the group in Section 126 with hints or orange underneath their blue shirts.
Tim Frazier became Penn State's all-time assists leader on a feed to Donovon Jack early. He's got 601 for his career.
The Illini freshmen have been active early on in this one. Morgan has four points, Hill has three and Nunn has a rebound and an assist.
Official Pat Driscoll was shaken up. He took a blow to the thigh and went tumbling into the cheerleaders. He's got a bit of a hitch in his giddy-up.
Maverick Morgan with a nice bank shot from just outside the lane off a pass from Jaylon Tate. The freshman big man has a real nice touch around the bucket.
Paris Parham has been real active on the Illinois bench, standing up and barking out calls and words of encouragement.
Austin Colbert set to check in for the Illini after this timeout. The freshman hasn't played much lately. That will mean all 10 scholarship players will have played already today.
The Orange Krush is having a blast over in Section 126. They've got all their chants going.
Illinois (13-10, 2-8) at Penn State (12-11, 3-7) — TIPOFF (BTN)
The Illini mixed up the starting lineup for the first time this season, going with Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu.
A smattering of applause went up when the Nittany Lions took the floor about 20 minutes before tip. It really is rather dreadful here.
Penn State goes with Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis, Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor.
The Penn State band played "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. They won the Grammy for rap album of the year. I still think Kendrick Lamar was robbed. No way he shouldn't have won that.
Anyway, there was a group of about 12 PSU students gathered around cheering for the BTN camera. I'm guessing they're going to use that to make it look like there are people here cheering today. Do not be fooled.
A Penn State student in the media room, I'm guessing a sports information assistant, said that new football coach James Franklin is following him on Twitter. He said the moment was pretty much the highlight of his life.Poor kid.
The Penn State wrestling team is competing on BTN right now. The usher in front of me has binoculars so that he can glance at a television above us to keep track of the scores and such. There are fans asking for updates from him.
The Penn State coaches are doing suits and sneakers today. It's a big Coaches vs. Cancer day here. They're all wearing blue slacks with a light blue dress shirt, no ties. Very uniform.
Ted Valentine, Mark Whitehead and Pat Driscoll are your officials today.
Illinois (13-10, 2-8) at Penn State (12-11, 3-7) — 3:21 p.m. (BTN)
It's a workout getting from the media room to get to the area above the lower bowl of seats where the media sits here. I've had a pretty rigorous workout making that journey.
John Groce made a rare appearance on the court during presume warmups. The Illini coach typically doesn't come out of the locker room until the team takes the floor for the final time, but he sat in the expensive seats at courtside to observe warmups today.
There are dozens of people matriculating to their seats 30 minutes before tipoff. The Penn State band has taken its place in one end zone.
There are a handful of Illinois fans here in attendance. Some made the trip here with the team.
It's going to dreary in here today.
I ran into Rob McColley, the other Illinois media member here today. Rob took a Greyhound to Chicago, Amtrak from Chicago to Pittsburgh and then a Mega Bus from Pittsburgh to State College. That's a serious travel schedule.
The big news for the Illini over the weekend has been to re-emergence in the recruitment of Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson. John Groce, Paris Parham and Dustin Ford were on Lincolnshire on Friday night to see the 6-foot guard, rated as the No. 2 lead guard in the 2015 class in the country by Scout.com. Illinois was out, now they're all the way back in. That's huge news. Illinois needs a point guard bad and Brunson would be a good one to get.
SOmething interesting was brought to my attention yesterday. Illinois has only had two double-figure scoring performances from its bench this season. Malcolm Hill and Jaylon Tate have each scored 10 points once this season. Starters account for 80 percent of the Illini scoring this season. Maybe someone breaks out today?
The Penn State managers, for some reason, are attempting to re-enact the Christian Laettner play with the long inbounds pass and turnaround jumper that beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. That most likely happened before they were born. It happened 22 years ago.
Have to go get Ed Bond a hotdog. Be back soon.
Illinois (13-10, 2-8) at Penn State (12-11, 3-7) — 3:21 p.m. (BTN)
Good afternoon from a lonely Happy Valley for a battle for last place in the Big Ten. I say lonely because when I got here, Shon Morris from the Big Ten Network, Ed Bond and a couple of basketball managers were the only other folks inside the Bryce Jordan Center arena bowl.
It will probably remain pretty lonely here throughout the afternoon. Penn State averages 5,843 fans for its home games here at the 15,261-seat arena and there's virtually no media following to speak of. No Penn State media members made the trip to Champaign earlier this season, though I suspect some will be here today. In terms of Illinois media in Happy Valley today, it's myself and Rob McColley from Smile Politely. That's it.
With the weather, the snow just started coming down pretty good here at about 1:30 p.m. local time, I'd imagine most folks will stay off the roads and watch this one from home if they care at all.
Penn State football is known for its whiteouts. There's a real whiteout happening outside.
The seats in the end zones of the upper level here at Bryce Jordan are blocked off with black curtains.
The taxi driver who took me to my hotel from the airport here yesterday seemed surprised that Penn State had a men's basketball team. "How are they doing this year?" he asked me. He knew the Lady Lions were good, though.
All he wanted to talk about was football. "We're excited abbot the recruiting class," he said.
Today's driver made it a point to tell me he's a Joe Paterno supporter. He supposedly went to school with one of Paterno's daughters and says he participated in a "makeout party" at the Paterno home. I'm not making this up.
Anyway, call me crazy, but I think the Illini end the eight-game losing streak today. Offensively, they've looked more in sync and I don't think Penn State has enough outside Newbill and Frazier to mount a significant attack. Like I said, call me crazy, but I think it'll be a happy flight back to Savoy tonight from Happy Valley.
What say you?
Joseph Bertrand was the first Illinois player on the court today. He was followed by Rayvonte Rice and then Kendrick Nunn.
Illinois will wear orange. Penn State is in the home whites.
I need to eat. I'll check back in with you shortly.